The Empty Man made me do it.
The Devil drove me to kill. God told me to. My dog speaks to me in my sleep. It wasn’t me, it was the one-armed man. Chucky did it. t’s easy for us to blame someone else for our actions. We do it all the time to avoid consequences for our actions. From little things to major, horrible events. The Empty Man from Cullen Bunn, Vanesa R. Del Rey, Michael Garland, and Ed Dukeshire exists in a world, though, where maybe that voice telling you to do terrible things is real. And it’s spreading its infection across the world.
Cullen Bunn is probably comics most prolific horror writer. Likely because he’s really quite good at it and incredibly versatile. His work ranges from extra-Biblical imaging an ark concurrent with Noah’s that housed monsters (Dark Ark with Juan Doe) to classic ghost stories (Cold Spots with Mark Torres) door to door salesmen monster hunters (in the excellent forthcoming Door to Door, Night by Night with Sally Cantirino), covering each corner of horror from abominations to zombies and everything in between. What I love about his work is how inventive he can be with the horror genre, and that’s particularly made manifest in The Empty Man, where he taps into psychological horror, body horror, and the potential of tapping into a realm where we should not be.
The original mini-series (which was then followed up by a second 8 issue series) follows a pair of federal agents from a joint FBI-CDC task force assigned to investigate the Empty Man virus. It’s interesting to see this angle, well before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, of what they think of as a disease ravaging the world. Especially as it affects mental faculties, causing the infected to potentially hallucinate and cause harm to themselves or others. It gets more insidious as the agents search for a source for the madness and they see it evolve into physical manifestations. As well as dealing with the cults that pop up around the idea of the Empty Man.
It results in a story that is inherently creepy, made even more so by the lush, evocative artwork of Vanesa R. Del Rey and Michael Garland. Del Ray’s style is fairly unique in comics. Her characters are often formed with thick, scratchy lines that don’t always meet, immersed in a variety of thick shadows comprised of swoops, hatching, charcoal stippling, and solid blacks. At times, though, it almost looks like the art is moving, like oil on water, and it adds to the terrifying atmosphere. Garland’s solid colours complement this nicely, adding almost a haze effect for flashbacks.
There’s also an interesting approach to the layouts that sometimes incorporates the shapes of the triangles present in various Empty Man cult logos. The effect is kind of like adding a memetic element, evoking the transmission of the virus to the reader. The attention to design carries over to Ed Dukeshire’s lettering, with some very impressive sound effects for the nightmare creatures.
The Empty Man from Bunn, Del Rey, Garland, and Dukeshire is an enthralling blend of psychological horror, transformative body horror, and potentially cosmic horror. It taps into fear of the unknown, fear of disease, and fear of organized cults manifesting the ideals of their god. And once it sinks its teeth into you, you’ll want to buy more. Just tell your comics shop that the Empty Man made you do it.
Classic Comic Compendium: THE EMPTY MAN
The Empty Man
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey
Colourist: Michael Garland
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
It’s been one year since the first reported case of the Empty Man disease, and no drug has been able to slow its progress. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms include fits of rage, hideous hallucinations, suicidal dementia, followed by death, or a near lifeless, “empty” state of catatonia. As murder cults rise nationwide, the FBI and CDC enter a joint investigation of the Empty Man, hoping to piece together clues to stop the cult and uncover a cure.
Release Date: September 30 2015
Read last week’s entry in the Classic Comic Compendium!